Doug Leier: Be prepared and aware when boating

No one heads out the door thinking a boating or water tragedy may occur. Photo courtesy NDGF

No matter the outdoor activity, there’s always a safety checklist, and I’ll never lose sight of the importance of keeping everyone safe from start to finish.

These safety reminders aren’t just for the other boaters or anglers. They are for all of us.

One of the struggles in preaching about safety is that, quite honestly, no one heads out the door thinking a boating or water tragedy may occur.

While most people will never be affected by a boating mishap, we do need to remember that accidents happen, and we should take all precautions to keep from having to call 911 or rushing to the emergency room.

My point isn’t to keep people from enjoying the outdoors because they are shouldering thoughts of “it could happen to you.” Rather, I want them to be aware, prepared and play safe because, well, accidents happen.


So, here are some basic legal requirements to remember while boating in North Dakota:

  • A boat should have enough life jackets on board for all passengers.
  • North Dakota law requires all children ages 10 and younger to wear a personal flotation device while in boats of less than 27 feet in length.
  • The law also requires all personal watercraft users to wear a life jacket, as well as anyone towed on skis, tubes, boards or other similar devices.

When I’m asked for a recommendation on a personal flotation device, I’ll quickly suggest the best life jacket is one you will wear and not just leave on the boat deck. Failure to wear a PFD is the main reason people lose their lives in water recreation accidents.
Fortunately, advances in design have helped create life jackets that fit the specific water activity and provide maximum comfort.

Water skiers and tubers should wear a life jacket with four nylon straps, rather than one with a zipper, because straps are stronger upon impact with the water. Anglers and anyone paddling canoes or paddleboards should opt for a PFD that is comfortable enough to wear for the entire outing.

Also, make sure to wear life jackets that are the appropriate size and in good condition. It is also important that children wear a PFD while swimming. Swimmers should know the water’s depth, as serious injuries can occur from diving. Large objects hidden below the water’s surface can lead to significant injury.

July is the peak time of year for water recreation here on the Northern Plains, and I’d also advise adults, parents and guardians from allowing novice watercraft operators free reign, to simply just jump on a jet ski or motor away from shore in a boat without proper training.

While providing a fun water activity, like riding around on a jet ski, is an easy way to keep kids occupied, sacrificing safety for convenience and fun isn’t advisable.

North Dakota law requires youth ages 12-15, who want to operate a boat or personal watercraft by themselves with at least a 10 horsepower motor, to first pass the state’s boating basics course.

The course covers legal requirements, navigation rules, getting underway, accidents and special topics, such as weather, rules of the road, laws and first aid.


All boaters, certainly, are encouraged to take the course, not just kids.

For more information, contact Game and Fish at or 701-328-6300. Regulations to help ensure safe boating this summer are also found in the North Dakota Boat and Water Safety Guide .

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. His email is

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